Calling out Anthony Bourdain

There’s a line that Anthony Bourdain uses a lot, and each time that he does, I wish I could find a way to do a follow up question.

Here’s the line (found recently in a discussion he had with Alice Waters and Duff Goldman):

Bourdain made a point to say that he eats for pleasure, that as a chef he’s in the business of pleasure — not local or organic — he doesn’t care where the tomato comes from, as long as it tastes good.

It’s a good line, as it quickly sets Mr. Bourdain apart of from the Michael Pollans and Alice Waters of the world. With this line, he doesn’t have to promote nor defend political and ethical questions about the food world. It’s all about the taste of food after all.

But I don’t think it’s absolutely true. I do think that there are lines that even Mr. Bourdain won’t cross. In fact, it’s mentioned he says as such later in the paragraph:

Later on, when asked what he would never eat, (Bourdain) said – Chicken McNuggets “I have to draw the line somewhere.”

This coming from a man who has eaten more disgusting items in a year of his travels than most of us will see in a lifetime. But whether McDonald’s is an ethical line, or an aesthetic one, it still isn’t truly clear.

So let’s take an food issue that has a clear black or white answer: Would you eat chocolate that comes from ranch/farm that uses child slavery? Even if it produced the best chocolate in the world?

My point here isn’t to have Anthony Bourdain, or even you, the reader, take a public position on child slavery (which I think we can all agree is abhorrent).Rather, what I’m trying to illustrate is that while it may be easy to dismiss politics in food with a rhetorical trick, sometimes such dismissiveness is an ill-afforded luxury.

Are organic food, sustainable agriculture, or childhood obesity open to being dismissed? That depends on the individual. But saying that “taste takes precedent over politics, always” is demonstrably wrong.